(Photo by Philadelphia Photo League, courtesy of Global Citizen)
The third Monday in January has come and gone, and Martin Luther King, Jr. won’t be formally recognized for another 11 months.
For one Center City-based nonprofit and the thousands of volunteers it works with, though, his legacy will be celebrated throughout the entire year.
Global Citizen, a volunteer and civic engagement capacity-building organization, is the host of the annual Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service. Day of Service became an official part of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 1996 thanks to former Sen. Harris Wofford and Global Citizen founder Todd Bernstein, who had the goal of making the holiday a day “on,” rather than just another day off.
Global Citizen’s mission is to bring together diverse populations to serve the overall community.
“We try to act as a connector,” said George Campbell Bird, Global Citizen’s director of programs and partnerships. “Whether that’s something that’s very tangible like a beautification project or something less tangible, we just want to build that common ground [of volunteerism] because we think that’s the best way to bring people together.”
Global Citizen spends the 364 (or 365, if it’s a leap year) days that aren’t MLK Day partnering volunteers with mission-minded organizations and helping both figure out ways to better enact change through service, Bird said.
It also hosts its own events, such as the annual Beer Summit held at Reading Terminal Market. That event is a part of a conversation series on race relations that was inspired by the July 2009 arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates on the front porch of his own home by Cambridge Police Sergeant James Crowley. President Obama invited the two men to the White House for a meeting over beer to discuss the incident, inspiring other “beer summits” across the nation.
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But the organization’s focus is certainly on Day of Service. It both organizes its own events and documents how many total events are happening across the Greater Philadelphia region, including parts of Delaware and New Jersey.
This year, Global Citizen predicted that 140,000 volunteers would turn out, a number it came to via an online registration process: Every year, service-oriented organizations in the region submit their estimates for event attendees to Global Citizen’s website before the Day.
“We’ve established ourselves and have a lot of partners who know the drill,” Bird said about the number of cooperating organizations. Global Citizen also targets those new to the process to make sure they’re aware of its tracking goals. Now, in the weeks after Day of Service, Global Citizen’s staff is making a big push to confirm service organizations’ pre-Day predictions.
“Accuracy is definitely important” when relaying the Day’s impact to supporters like United Way and corporations, Bird said. “The idea is to have a detailed account of what happens every year because it’s so big and it’s something people can be a part of that’s a big deal, and that’s exciting. It’s a way of showing people how important that Day of Service is — how important service is in general.”
Global Citizen’s own Day of Service event took place at Girard College and drew around 5,000 attendees, Bird said. The event was several mini-events in one: service projects executed by various partner organizations; public workshops on topics such a financial literacy; a health and wellness fair; a jobs fair; and perhaps closest to its own mission, a civic engagement expo at which attendees could sign up for volunteer events happening throughout the year.
Global Citizen keeps up the service momentum year-round by continuously offering ways for the Greater Philadelphia area to volunteer. Its monthly newsletter and social media highlight volunteer opportunities, and Global Citizen staff host community workshops about how to recruit volunteers.
The organization’s goal is, eventually, “for there not to have to be a host for Day of Service, that it’s just something that happens on its own,” he said. “But until then, we’re here to beat the drum and to get people excited, and to show that there’s a reason to be excited.”-30-
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